December 12, 2014

Cara Neir / Venowl / Highgate

Written by Craig Hayes.

The vast proportion of heavy metal’s grimmest fare is riddled with hackneyed clichés that are more likely to give rise to chuckles than chills. That said, we're all still perfectly willing to buy into the intent of the whole deal. Because metal obviously makes for a great escape from the mundane, and stock phrase frights still resonate at some level. However, everyone eventually discovers that the real world is terrifying enough, and you do get desensitised to the cheap scares found in the realms of metal, so that often makes finding any genuinely unnerving music a difficult task.

Difficult, but not impossible. Because there’s disturbing music out there. Like the hellscape noise of Illinois-based trio Venowl. I reviewed the re-release of the band’s 2012 debut, Patterns of Failure, for Metal Bandcamp recently, and that album was definitely intimidating in its intensity. Patterns of Failure was incredibly bleak, abrasive, and confrontational. But what made Patterns of Failure was that it was such an unhinged cacophony. There’s no question Patterns of Failure wasn’t for everyone, and Venowl’s members, ][ (guitar/voice), :: (percussion/voice), and // (bass/electronics/voice) rendered their roles into typographic reference points, extinguishing individualism to serve the cause in a harrowing cesspit of doom-drenched and improvised noise.

Patterns of Failure was a gigantic ‘fuck you’ to the notion of desensitisation. Ear-piercing feedback, distortion, and dissonance boiled away on the album’s lengthy tracks–pushing well past any run-of-the-mill doom and gloom. That sense of long-lost fear oozed from Patterns of Failure’s demoralising tracks, and Venowl have recently released a couple of split releases, with Cara Neir and Highgate, that shred the nerves in exactly the same manner.

The avant-grind and post-this-and-blackened-that pursuits of Cara Neir are no strangers to praise on Metal Bandcamp’s pages. The Dallas-based duo’s split with Venowl was recently issued via label Broken Limbs Recordings on a limited cassette run, which quickly sold out, but it’s still available digitally via Bandcamp. Cara Neir contributes three songs to the split. “Aeonian Temple” is a screaming/screamo black metal riot. “Nights” a much gentler and jazzier amble. While “Pitiful Human Bindings” ramps things back up with a frosty and raw screed. In all, Cara Neir’s contributions display the same ignoring of genre boundaries as they did on their last, and widely hailed, album, Portals to a Better, Dead World.

Counterpointing Cara Neir’s contribution on their split, Venowl issues the 20-minute plus “Scour (Parts I and II)”. The track is a slow-motion, acidic, and devastating plummet into the abyss. Miserable, for sure, with inhuman shrieks only adding to the tracks sense of hopelessness and dementedness. Still, like that death march atmosphere found on Patterns of Failure, “Scour (Parts I and II)” is all about the undertones and overtones mixing in a feedback frenzy. The song is bleak, and unquestionably challenging, but the more you listen, the deeper you sink, and the more you discover. I’m not saying those discoveries are going to bring you any joy. But they are going to twist your mind and get under the skin. And we all need that, on occasion.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Venowl’s recent split with sludge and doom band Highgate is streaming on Tartarus Records Bandcamp (Venowl's part is available on their own Bandcamp). Highgate heave closer to Venowl’s stern on their split, with the band’s “Carved Into Winter” providing 26-minutes of crush and churn. “Carved Into Winter” is all filthy tones, grimy fuzz, and growling grunt–and there’s a psychedelic undercurrent to the cavernous and glacially paced song. It’s all massively heavy, and when “Carved Into Winter” drops out for a isolated ambient section, those cleaner guitar lines cut right to the marrow.

Venowl's contribution to the split is comprised of the 34-minute, “Vacant Cellar”. Again, there’s plenty of vocal screeches to scare you witless, and that’s all surrounded by music that heaves and lurches its way across desolate terrain. “Vacant Cellar” features plenty of the Venowl’s demented and distorted drone and doom, and the song certainly claws its way through its lengthy running time without a second of sympathy for your nerves. Like all of Venowl’s recordings thus far, “Vacant Cellar” features fathomless darkness, and a monstrous countenance, bringing an unrelenting unification of punishing and pulverising sounds.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

There’s nothing on Venowl’s contributions to their splits with Cara Neir or Highgate that could be called hospitable or even welcoming, and you have to admire Venowl’s complete disinterest in creating any easily accessible fodder for the masses. However, more to the point, the best thing about Venowl is that you don’t have buy into the band’s intent. Venowl shoves insanity down the throat of trepidation, and that forces you to feel something instinctively and immediately. That’s a rare art. Sure, it might not be the kind of art you enjoy. But when was the last time you heard something that provoked a genuine visceral reaction?

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